3 Ways To Engage Your 5th-Graders
If you have served in children’s ministry for just about any amount of time, you may have noticed the following: every January a level of apathy seems to fall over some 5th-grade boys and girls.
You may try to tweak your programming or host some events just for them, and the response is the same. They do not seem interested in children’s ministry. Recently I had a friend ask me if I knew of any churches that were engaging 5th-graders well. Her church is looking at what other churches are doing to see if they can glean anything to try in their context. So I asked around the Accelerator Community and some other friends and here is what I found:
Provide Them With Opportunities For Relationship
The relationships a 5th-grader has with their teacher, small group leader, Sunday school teacher, and their peers are crucial to engagement. One ministry leader I spoke to said they are intentional about who they select to teach each grade level, making sure the personality of the teacher resonates well with the kids they are teaching. If the teacher and the kids connect, then you have the makings of a good relationship. A solid connection between the teacher and the children is a good idea for anyone teaching any grade. Don’t just assign a leader a position and leave them there. Try the leader out in different roles, iterate, and adjust as you go.
Another way to build relationships is assigning children to small groups. I know a church that recently transitioned to assigned small groups in their children’s ministry. This church has seen an increase in both consistency and engagement. What makes this story such a win in my book is the number of military families — families who transfer out on a regular basis — this church serves. Assigning children to small groups is a way to encourage consistent attendance, and consistent attendance helps build relationships. It is also good for volunteer retention.
Give Them A Place To Serve
Many churches I spoke with allow their older children to serve the younger ones. I hear about this a lot in churches that have K-5 together, but recently a friend at a large church with the ages separated told me they have the older children serve the younger ones.
Greeters and junior helpers in small groups are but two ways children can serve others. Some children greet others their age who come alone and stay with them the whole service. Allowing a child to fill this role for another child keeps the new child from feeling lonely in church. It also helps build a relationship that benefits both children. Other areas for children to serve, should your church offer them, are:
Media or Tech in service
Small group supplier
Helper in a clothes closet or food pantry
One suggestion: make the service option something to be earned through attendance and attitude.
Provide Them With Their Own Ministry
Some churches will separate their 5th & 6th-graders into a ministry of their own. One church I spoke with in our Accelerator Community put a great deal of intentionality into their 5th & 6th-grade ministry by creating an environment that was their own but with an eye to the future transition to student/youth ministry.
This idea may prove the most difficult. Churches may not have the physical space or logistical flexibility to create a 5th-grade or a 5th & 6th-grade ministry. Yet those who have done so report solid engagement.
Bonus: Let Them Go Early
I used to oppose children going to service with their parents. I believed that with what little time we, as the church, had with them, they needed to be in age-appropriate teaching. While I still believe in age-appropriate teaching, I recognize that some children are ready to transition to adult worship early. Before you make adjustments in your ministry, make sure you have a need to change first. If a child has matured out of children’s ministry, then nothing you do to bring them back will have long-term success.
Change By Design, Not By Accident
As always, with any of the above endeavors, keep your outcomes in mind. Don’t shift to ease a pain unless the shift moves you toward those God-given outcomes for your church or ministry. Take your time, talk to some of these children and their families, find out which of these or other ideas may be worth trying, then try them out with a small group of people. Don’t go all in. Iterate by trying something, evaluating, and then trying something else. You want to find the right fit because that will serve you well for years to come.